Ohio Juvenile Law FAQ: Your Questions Answered

Is your child being investigated?  You have questions.  We can help.

Perhaps you are receiving calls from police investigators who want to interview your child.  Or  maybe school officials are calling. Everyone is asking questions.

You are concerned about your child's behavior.  You are worried about how much trouble he or she is in. You are concerned about protecting your child's rights and his/her future.  You want to do the right thing in the eyes of the law.  Should your child talk to investigators?  Should your child just tell everything he/she knows?

If your child is being or has been investigated by police, give us a call:  Lebanon (513) 932-5529 or Beavercreek (937) 306-6402.  Your initial consultation is offered at no cost to you.

Juvenile Court FAQ

Our experienced juvenile lawyers have compiled answers to frequently asked questions about the juvenile Court process.  The lawyers of Dearie, Fischer & Mathews hope this page can answer many of your questions about the legal terms you may be hearing in Juvenile Court.

If your minor child is currently under investigation by police,

please also read our article: Is Your Child in Trouble with the Law? Read this First

Ohio lawyers for Juvenile Defense  Dearie Fischer & Mathews 513-932-5529

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions we have encountered about juvenile law in our years of practice.

What is juvenile court?

Does a juvenile have a right to an attorney?

Is my child charged with a crime?

Can I come with my child to Court?

Will my child be required to take a lie detector test (polygraph)?

Can a juvenile plead "not guilty"?

Can juveniles plead "deny" (not guilty) even if they committed the offense?

What happens after pleading "deny" (not guilty)?'

Does a juvenile need an attorney to go to trial?

What should I wear to Juvenile Court?

Can a juvenile plead "guilty"?

What is "adjudication" in juvenile Court?

What is an "adjudication hearing"?

What is a "delinquent child"?

What is a "delinquent act"?

What is a "disposition" in juvenile Court?

Can minors face jail time if they are adjudicated a delinquent child?

What is Pretrial Detention?

Why is my child in pretrial detention?

Can a minor be tried in an adult court?

Do alleged juvenile offenders have the right to a jury trial?

Can underage sexting be considered a sex offense?

Can juveniles be ruled sex offenders?

What does competency mean in juvenile court?

How does the court determine competency?

Can juvenile arrests and dispositions be expunged?

What if my child is charged with a traffic offense?

What is Juvenile Court?

Juvenile Court handles cases where minors are accused of violating criminal or traffic laws. Rather than seeking to punish offenders as our system does for adults in criminal courts, juvenile courts seek to rehabilitate minors who find themselves there.  A juvenile has many of the same rights as adults in criminal and traffic courts, but there are some significant differences.

Does a juvenile have a right to an attorney?

Yes. A minor child is not required to speak to police officers or any other officials who "just want to ask some questions." Sometimes juveniles and their parents do not realize that the minor child has a right to an attorney.

When minors tell law enforcement everything they know, they may be setting themselves up for a long fight in Court afterward. What they thought might earn them a slap on the wrist, some after-school detention, or some community service hours, often ends up leading instead to time spent in a juvenile detention center and a public record that can affect their schooling, scholarships, and job opportunities for years to come.

Please call us right away before your child talks to police or school officials about an alleged offense. You may decide after talking to us that you still do not want an attorney, that will be up to you. But we can help you understand exactly what you are giving up if your child is allowed to talk openly with investigators without having an attorney present.

Is my child charged with a crime?

Juveniles are not technically found guilty of crimes if the court finds that they committed an offense. Adults are charged with misdemeanors (relatively less serious crimes) or felonies (more serious crimes that carry a year in prison if convicted). However, children are charged with violations equivalent to these crimes, but are not going to be found guilty or not guilty of crimes in the way adults are. Instead, the judge will "adjudicate" the child and issue a sentence in the form of a "disposition order".

Technically, cases in Juvenile Court are treated as civil, not criminal, matters.  You may hear your child's offense referred to as something like:  "offense would be charged as a misdemeanor if the defendant were an adult."    The system whereby juveniles are charged follows the same structure as the seen in adult criminal Court, but the offenses are treated differently for juveniles, both in the penalties the child faces and in how the charges can affect the child's future.

Can I come with my child to Court?

Yes.  You must come with your child to Court.  At least one parent or legal guardian is required to accompany the juvenile for all Court hearings.

Will my child be required to take a lie-detector test (polygraph)?

In recent months, local Courts including Warren County Juvenile Court, have been requiring many juveniles to take a lie detector test in order to be released from the Detention Center while the case is pending.  It is important to understand what information the Court is trying to gain from this test.  This test is not used to determine the guilt or innocence of the juvenile for the offense he/she is charged with.

The lie detector test has been used, particularly in school threat cases, to determine if the juvenile would be a threat to self or others while awaiting adjudication (trial).   The judge may use the test to determine if the the child should be held in the juvenile detention center prior to the adjudication hearing, or if the child will be released to the parents or legal guardian.  The judge will use the test results to determine the juvenile's state of mind:  whether or not the child has violent inclinations, whether the child has access to firearms, whether the child intended to hurt someone, whether the child has ever taken firearms to school, etc.

Important note: If your child has been charged with making a violent threat of some kind, and then passes the polygraph test, this does not mean that it is all over and everybody can go home and pretend nothing ever happened.  The judge may determine, through polygraph testing,  that it is safe to allow the child to go home while awaiting his adjudication hearing.   That initial charge will still need to be brought through the Court system.

Example Story to illustrate the use of polygraph testing: Fourteen-year-old Sonny makes a statement at school  that a teacher and a classmate interpret as some kind of threat.  They call the police.  Sonny is surprised when the police want to arrest him, because he thought everyone knew he was just joking around.

Sonny is charged with "inducing panic in a school." Specifically, in this example, Sonny is charged under Ohio Revised Code 2917.31(C) (5),  which would be a felony of the second degree if Sonny were an adult.

Sonny is brought before the judge.  The judge orders a polygraph test to determine if Sonny really had any intention to harm himself or other people. Recall, however, that Sonny is charged with making the threat in school that induced panic.  The polygraph is not used to determine if Sonny made the threat or induced panic.

Fortunately for Sonny in our example, the polygraph test results assure the judge that it is safe to allow Sonny to go home with his parents until the date of his adjudication hearing (trial) set by the judge.

When Sonny returns before the judge, he may be tried on the charge of "inducing panic in a school" where the prosecutor will present evidence against him, and Sonny can present evidence in his own favor.  If he has hired Dearie, Fischer & Mathews, Sonny has had his rights protected and has his best chance for avoiding trial or getting his charges dismissed or reduced.

Can a juvenile plead "not guilty"?

In adult Courts, defendants plead "guilty," "not guilty," or in some cases "no contest" (meaning the defendant accepts a conviction but does not admit guilt). In juvenile Courts, juveniles will plead "admit" or "deny" to the charges against them. A plea of "no contest" is not accepted in juvenile Court.

Can juveniles  plead "deny" (not guilty) even if they committed the offense?

At the outset of the case, it is almost always advisable to plead "deny" even for juveniles who believe they have committed the offense they are charged with. Pleading "deny" simply means that you are asking the state to provide the evidence against you before you make any further decisions. Pleading "deny" is not a lie, even for juveniles who believe themselves to be guilty. A denial is understood by judges, prosecutors and all other officers of the Court to mean that the juvenile wants to see and hear the evidence before entering an official, final plea or taking the case to trial.

What happens after pleading "deny"?

After entering the plea, you will have your case continued, or put off, to another date for trial. At trial, the prosecutor will present evidence against you. If you are aware of witnesses who can testify in your favor, you may have them subpoenaed, or ordered, to come to Court to testify. At trial, the judge or magistrate will examine all evidence and hear from witnesses from both sides to determine if the charge has been proven.

Does a juvenile need an attorney to go to trial?

In most serious cases, you will need an attorney to help you through the Court process. An attorney can also negotiate with the prosecutor prior to trial and may be able to reach an agreement on behalf of the juvenile and avoid going to trial all together.

Just like the adult Court system, juvenile Court is an adversarial system, meaning that there are two opposing sides fighting for their own interests.  There will be a prosecutor representing the rights of the state.  These attorneys are skilled, experienced lawyers who are prepared to argue their case against your child before the judge or magistrate.  It is highly advised that your child also have a skilled attorney in fighting in Court for the outcome desired by the child.

What should I wear to juvenile Court?

Come with your hair clean and combed, teeth brushed, and wearing clean clothing. You don't have to wear your Sunday best, but you certainly may. At least wear a clean, casual outfit, no shorts, no holes in your pants or shirt or skirt or shoes, no flip flops, no tank tops, no t-shirts with slogans on them, no spaghetti straps or crop tops, and no hats.

Can a juvenile plead "guilty"?

Juveniles can either "admit" or "deny" charges against them. I almost never advise a client to make an admission at the outset of a case. The law is very complex. Even if you believe yourself to be guilty, you might not be, or the state might not have enough evidence to prove your guilt. Just as in adult Court, juveniles are considered innocent until proven guilty.

What is "adjudication" in juvenile Court?

An adjudication in juvenile Court is equivalent to a verdict in adult Court. Rather than being found "guilty" or "not guilty", a juvenile is found to be "delinquent child," "unruly child," or "juvenile traffic offender," or the charge is dismissed. The finding is called an "adjudication".

What is an "adjudication hearing"?

An adjudication hearing in basically a trial in juvenile Court. At this hearing, a judge or magistrate will determine whether the allegations against the juvenile are supported by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt or preponderance of the evidence.

What is a "delinquent child"?

A delinquent child is a juvenile who has been found by a Court of Law to have committed an act that would be considered a crime if it had been committed by an adult.

What is a "delinquent act"?

A delinquent act is any act that would be called a crime if committed by an adult.

What is a "disposition" in juvenile Court?

A disposition in juvenile Court is equivalent to the sentence in an adult case. There are multiple different dispositions that may be imposed by the court. Dispositions in juvenile Court usually consist of a combination of the following: time in the juvenile detention center, community service, house arrest, curfews, apology letters, very small fines, and/or counseling.

In very rare circumstances, a juvenile disposition may include time in a Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility for juveniles who have committed very serious offenses and have resisted other attempts at rehabilitation.

It is also rare that the judge issues a disposition that includes a "bindover," giving over jurisdiction of the juvenile to the adult Court system. In these cases, the youth will be treated as an adult.

Can minors face jail time if they are adjudicated a delinquent child?

Has your child been arrested? Read our article "Is Your Child in Trouble with the Law? Read This First"

Because the focus of the court is the rehabilitation of youth, the result of many juvenile cases is court mandated therapy, family counseling, or some kind of probationary measure. More serious legal violations by minors can, however, result in more serious penalties.

It is not uncommon for a minor who is adjudicated unruly or delinquent to do some time in a juvenile detention center. The center will allow the child to keep up with school work and  attend any necessary counseling sessions. Juveniles are not kept in adult jails or prisons. The Courts do not seek to punish the juveniles so much as to make sure that the youth are given skills they need to function in society prior to leaving the detention center.

Ohio law provides for jurisdictions to erect juvenile detention centers at the recommendation of the judge, or contract with other jurisdictions to have access to their facilities. There are a few different ways a minor can land in a juvenile detention center. A child may be placed "pretrial detention," or the child may receive a disposition that requires time spent in the detention center.

If adjudicated delinquent, sentences for juvenile detention vary widely depending on the conviction, and could range from time already served to several years.

While youth cannot be sent to prison, they may be held in custody by the Department of Youth Services, sometimes for several years. For "an act that would be aggravated murder or murder if committed by an adult," Ohio statute prescribes that the minor be held in detention until they turn 21; a minor found to have attempted murder will face 6 to 7 years. Sex offenses can carry minimum sentences from 1 to 3 years, and other violations equivalent to felonies (crimes which, when committed by adults, carry year long prison sentences) carry 6 month minimum sentences.

Minors cannot be held in juvenile detention after they turn 21. At this point, most are released (in rare exceptions for the most serious crimes, older teens may be tried as adults, which could bring much lengthier sentences). However, some may be designated "serious youthful offenders;" they will be released at age 21 for good behavior, but bad behavior in detention, or violation of the terms of their parole will land them in prison as adults.

What is Pretrial Dentention?

If detained by a police officer, a juvenile may be held in detention while awaiting trial, similar to the way an adult may be held in jail. It is unusual that a juvenile will be held for a substantial period of time without a conviction (unless there is worry about public safety). Adults have a Constitutional 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial. Juveniles are not granted the same right, but local Courts make every effort to move juvenile cases through the system quickly, often even more quickly than cases move through adult Court.

If a juvenile is being held for a traffic offense before trial, he or she must be released within 24 hours.

Why is my child in Pretrial Detention?

Juveniles are placed in pretrial detention while they undergo an evaluation to determine if they are at risk for causing harm to themselves or others. In many cases, this can be for the safety of the juvenile and others. Sometimes, however, it is unwarranted.   Our lawyers have successfully argued to keep juveniles out of the detention center prior to trial, and have been able to get them back to their homes so they don't have to spend the night or a weekend in detention.

Can a minor be tried in an adult court?

Cases that are transferred from juvenile court to criminal court are only the most serious, and only involve older teens or repeat offenders. Gun offenses, violent crimes, and in some cases, felony charges may be transferred at the court's discretion. These kinds of transfers, while possible, are rare, and typically involve a combination of the factors listed above.

The most common charge to be transferred is murder. Even in these cases, in order to have their case transferred to a criminal court (or, as it is commonly called, "charged as adults") the minor must be either 16 or 17, or be 14 or 15 and a repeat offender. In these cases, the prosecutor is seeking a prison sentence for the minor's actions, and a finding of guilty by the court would result in a serious conviction that would remain on the convict's record for life.

Do alleged juvenile offenders have the right to a jury trial?

Interestingly, a juvenile does not have the right to a trial by jury in the U.S. Courts.

The Constitution of the United States guarantees that "The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury," ensuring that the decision as to one's guilt or innocence will not be decided by a government official. Rather, verdicts are determined by a group of 12 peers dwelling in the same state as the defendant. (Defendants also have the ability to waive this right, if they decide they would prefer a judge or magistrate to decide their case). In Ohio, this law has only been determined to apply to adults. This is one of several differences between adult court and juvenile court.

While juries are empowered to render a decision that can result in the accused being jailed, fined, or suffer other punishment, juvenile courts are not focused on imposing penalties. Rather, the mission of the Juvenile Court is the rehabilitation of delinquent or unruly children. For this reason, children accused of violating the law do not have the same rights as adults, and their cases are treated differently in the Courts.

Can underage sexting be considered a sex offense?

In many cases, yes it is.

In recent years, more sex cases have been brought against teens in juvenile court as prosecutors have sought to enforce anti-child pornography laws against junior high and high school aged children. Originally intended to prevent adults from exploiting children, these laws prohibit the possession of explicit material including children, but may be enforced even if a child depicted made and distributed the content on his/her own, and even if they are themselves the minor depicted. In many cases across Ohio, teens have been required to register as sex offenders for engaging in consensual sexting with friends and classmates.

Related Article: "Penalties for Teen Sexting in Ohio".

Can juveniles be ruled sex offenders?

Although juvenile courts exist mainly to rehabilitate minors who violate the law, they, like criminal courts, also seek to protect the public from the actions of those who fail to follow the law. One of the most serious long term consequences that can come out of a criminal case is the requirement to register for a sex offender list. Unfortunately, some minors also must register with such lists if they are found to have committed sex offenses in juvenile court.

According to Ohio statute, when a court places children found to have comitted sex offenses in institutions, those institutions must be notified that the child comitted a sex offense. To have to register, a minor must be at 16, or be 14 and either have committed a serious sex offense or a prior one. Whether and how long a minor will have to register is up to the court, and will vary based on the details of the case. In extreme cases, they may be required to register for life.

If your child has been charged with an offense that would require sex registration, please call us right away. Sex offense registration can have a serious impact on a child's psyche, outlook, and future. We have fought successfully in many cases to keep a child off the sex offenders' list.

What does competency mean in juvenile court?

Competency is the ability of a defendant to understand the details of the case and why it is before the court. If the juvenile prosecutor is alleging a child is delinquent, in order for the juvenile court to proceed with its case, it must establish that a minor is competent.

The law states that "if the child who is the subject of the proceeding is fourteen years of age or older and if the child is not otherwise found to have a mental illness or developmental disability, it is rebuttably presumed that the child does not have a lack of mental capacity."

How does the court determine competency?

The court may order a competency evaluation if there is any doubt about the competency of the minor at the center of the case. A qualified professional will assess the child in consultation with the parent or guardian, attorneys, officers of the court, and documents relevant to the case. At the conclusion of the investigation, the evaluator will produce a competency evaluation report, which shall address the child's capacity to do all of the following:

(1) Comprehend and appreciate the charges or allegations against the child;

(2) Understand the adversarial nature of the proceedings, including the role of the judge, defense counsel, prosecuting attorney, guardian ad litem or court-appointed special assistant, and witnesses;

(3) Assist in the child's defense and communicate with counsel;

(4) Comprehend and appreciate the consequences that may be imposed or result from the proceedings.

The report may evaluate the child as incompetent, as impaired but able to continue with the case with reasonable accommodations, or likely to become competent in the future. The court may also recognize a child as incompetent without an evaluation if there is agreement among the adults in the case on the issue.

Can juvenile arrests and dispositions be expunged?

Juvenile records can be sealed and expunged, and it is often easier to get records sealed in juvenile court than in criminal courts for adults. In some cases, the court is even required to seal records, including the dismissal of cases and the completion of diversion programs, which provide a way for minors to admit to their wrong doing but have it stricken from their record for cooperating with the court's recommended rehabilitation program.

The court is also required to expunge or destroy juvenile records that have been sealed 5 years ago or more.

What if my child is charged with a traffic offense?

Juveniles charged with traffic offenses may be adjudicated "juvenile traffic offender" and face these potential penalties:

Suspension of license or temporary instruction permit, not allowing the juvenile to drive

Payment of Court costs and fines

Payment of restitution to any victim of the offense

Taking an additional driving course

Supervised Probation

Community Service

If your child is charged with a traffic offense, please read our article: What to Expect with a Juvenile Traffic Charge

If your child is charged with a traffic offense in Warren, Butler, Montgomery, or Greene counties, or anywhere in southwest Ohio, give our offices a call.  Lebanon (513) 932-5529 or Beavercreek (937) 306-6402.